2015 Football, Game 2: The Citadel vs. Western Carolina

The Citadel vs. Western Carolina, to be played at historic Johnson Hagood Stadium, with kickoff at 6:00 pm ET on Saturday, September 12. The game will not be televised.

The contest will be streamed on ESPN3.com, with Kevin Fitzgerald providing play-by-play and Sadath Jean-Pierre supplying the analysis.

The game can be heard on radio via the various affiliates of The Citadel Sports Network. WQNT-1450 AM [audio link], originating in Charleston, will be the flagship station. WQNT will have a two-hour pregame show prior to each home football game. 

Mike Legg (the “Voice of the Bulldogs”) will call the action alongside analyst Lee Glaze. Jay Harper will report from the sidelines; he will host the first hour of the pregame show as well.

It is also possible to listen to the action with a smartphone, using a TuneIn Radio application.

Links of interest:

Preview of Western Carolina-The Citadel from The Post and Courier

Pregame “notes” from The Post and Courier

– Game notes from The Citadel and Western Carolina

SoCon weekly release

Mike Houston on the SoCon teleconference

Mark Speir on the SoCon teleconference

Mike Houston’s 9/9 press conference (includes comments from Tevin Floyd, Dominique Allen, and Mariel Cooper)

The Mike Houston Show (radio)

Game story for Mars Hill-Western Carolina from the Asheville Citizen-Times 

– Tevin Floyd was the SoCon Defensive Player of the Week after making eight tackles and returning an interception for a touchdown against Davidson. You may recall that as a freshman in 2013, Floyd recovered a fumble for a touchdown in the Bulldogs’ 28-21 victory over Western Carolina in Cullowhee.

From my preview of last season’s game:

…the Catamounts currently sport a 5-2 record that includes three SoCon victories, including two straight.

That 3-0 SoCon record is a very big deal for WCU, given that the Catamounts entered this season having only won four league games since 2006. Western Carolina had lost 29 of its last 30 conference matchups prior to 2014.

WCU hasn’t been 3-0 in the league since 1994. If the Catamounts win on Saturday, they will match their best-ever league start.

It has taken time, but Mark Speir appears to have things moving in the right direction in Cullowhee. A competitive WCU program is good for the league, in my opinion.

Western Carolina won that game against The Citadel, 29-15, and moved to 6-2 for the 2014 season. The Catamounts then hit a major roadblock, getting drilled 51-0 by Chattanooga.

WCU lost at Samford the week after that, and later lost to Alabama, but picked up a home victory over VMI in between those losses. Western Carolina finished with a 7-5 record.

The Catamounts finished the 2014 season with the program’s first winning year on the gridiron since 2005; its most wins in a campaign since 2001; and its best record in league play since 1992. It was a largely gratifying season for the Western Carolina faithful, and probably something of a relief as well.

Now the question for Mark Speir is this: what can you do for an encore?

It could be argued that one of the tougher things to do in college sports is to put together two straight good years after enduring many, many bad seasons. That is what Western Carolina is attempting to do in 2015.

More than a few people have newly-found confidence in the Catamounts. WCU was picked to finish third in the SoCon in the coach’s preseason poll; the league’s media voters thought even more of Western Carolina, ranking it second in the conference.

It’s not altogether surprising that folks like the Catamounts’ chances. The SoCon release notes that 23 players listed as starters returned from last year’s squad, including all eleven on the offensive side of the ball.

However, there are still some doubters when it comes to Western Carolina, and that’s perfectly understandable.  Like I mentioned earlier, repeating success after a long period of failure isn’t easy.

Just ask The Citadel about the 2013 season.

In 2012, the Bulldogs were 7-4, finishing off the campaign with three straight victories and a winning league record. It was the first winning season for The Citadel in five years and only the second winning year since 1997. The five SoCon triumphs were the most since 1992.

Hopes were high the following year. The Citadel returned many of its top players, and fans were ready for a great season.

Instead, the Bulldogs only won five games. It turned out not to be the start of something big; rather, it was the end of an era.

There are no guarantees.

Statistical comparisons, 2014 SoCon games only (seven contests):

– The Citadel averaged 75.4 plays per game; Western Carolina averaged 66.1 plays per game.

– The Bulldogs’ time of possession per game: 32:40. The Catamounts averaged 29:57 per game.

WCU actually held the ball longer than its opponents in five of seven games. UTC had an almost 2-to-1 edge in time of possession against Western Carolina, skewing that particular statistic to a certain degree. The other league team that out-possessed the Catamounts: The Citadel.

– The Citadel’s offense averaged 5.6 yards per play; that includes 5.4 yards per rush and 6.8 yards per pass attempt. Western Carolina’s defense gave up 5.9 yards per play in league action, including 5.3 yards per rush and 7.1 yards per pass attempt.

– Western Carolina’s offense averaged 6.1 yards per play, including 4.8 yards per rush and 8.1 yards per pass attempt. The Citadel’s defense allowed just over 7 yards per play, including 5.7 yards per rush and 9.1 yards per pass attempt.

– The Catamounts were sacked five times in league action in 2014, while the Bulldogs’ D had eight sacks in seven SoCon contests.

– The Citadel’s 3rd-down conversion rate was 46.3%, while Western Carolina’s defense allowed opponents to convert 3rd downs 50% of the time.

Conversely, WCU’s offense converted 3rd downs at a 45.2% clip, while the Bulldogs’ defense allowed SoCon opponents to a 3rd-down conversion rate of 41.5%.

– On 4th down, The Citadel’s offense converted 12 of 20 4th-down attempt (60%), while the Catamounts’ D held opponents to a 40% 4th-down conversion rate (4-10).

Western Carolina’s offense was 7-10 on 4th down in league play (70%). The Bulldogs allowed a 4th-down conversion rate of 52.9% on defense.

– In the Red Zone, The Citadel’s offensive TD rate was 67% (18-27). WCU’s defense had a red zone TD allowed rate of only 41.7% (10-24).

The Catamounts’s offense scored touchdowns on 13 of 17 red zone possessions (76.5%), while the Bulldogs allowed TDs 15 of 25 times opponents moved inside the 20 (60%).

Western Carolina’s defense close to the goal line in league play was impressive last season, and a not-insignificant factor in the team’s win-loss record.

As its league campaign progressed, WCU started allowing more and more yards on defense. After a fine effort against Wofford (273 total yards allowed), the rest of the season for the Catamounts’ D went like this: 400 yards given up versus Mercer, 443 allowed to The Citadel, 512 to Chattanooga, 461 to Samford, and 471 to VMI.

In those last three games, WCU opponents scored 112 points.

Western Carolina threw the ball 39.7% of the time in league play. Passing yardage accounted for 52.7% of the Catamounts’ total offense in SoCon action.

Troy Mitchell is Western Carolina’s alltime leader in total offense, a mark he set last week. A fair amount of that yardage has come against The Citadel:

– Troy Mitchell vs. The Citadel, 2012: 117 rushing yards, 67 passing yards (2 rushing TDs)
– Troy Mitchell vs. The Citadel, 2013: 106 rushing yards, 136 passing yards (1 passing TD)
– Troy Mitchell vs. The Citadel, 2014: 131 rushing yards, 292 passing yards (1 passing TD)

There aren’t many quarterbacks who have rushed for over 100 yards three different times against the Bulldogs. The native of Texas will have a chance to go 4-for-4 on Saturday.

Mitchell isn’t the only Catamount who has had success running the football against the Bulldogs. Halfback Darius Ramsey had two 100+ yard performance versus The Citadel as a freshman and a sophomore. Last season, Ramsey settled for 72 yards (and a TD) on nine carries. His backup, Detrez Newsome, ran for 123 yards and two TDs on only eleven rushing attempts.

The starters on Western Carolina’s offensive line average 6’2″, 288 lbs. There is a lot of experience on the o-line, though left tackle Zach Weeks is a redshirt freshman.

Spearman Robinson is a preseason all-conference wideout selection. Robinson is big (6’4″, 215 lbs.) and has good speed. He had eleven touchdown receptions last year.

His first TD catch of this season came on the first play from scrimmage against Mars Hill last week. Detrez Newsome threw a halfback pass to Robinson that went for 75 yards.

Karnorris Benson is also a talented receiver. He is a redshirt senior who caught 12 touchdown passes two seasons ago.

Western Carolina will miss Terryon Robinson, who had a huge game against The Citadel last year (10 catches, 183 yards). He reportedly broke his wrist just before the season started.

WCU will throw the ball to its tight ends as well. 6’4″, 240 lb. Tyler Sexton caught three touchdown passes last season; the sophomore had five receptions last week against Mars Hill.

The Catamounts usually feature four down linemen on defense (as part of a base 4-3), but as always, that might be adjusted against The Citadel’s triple option attack. During his radio show, Mike Houston mentioned “split fronts” as a look the Bulldogs’ offense might see on Saturday.

Though he did not play in the opener (injury precaution) and is not listed as the starter on Western Carolina’s depth chart, expect defensive tackle Helva Matungulu (6’5″, 290 lbs.) to get a lot of playing time on Saturday.

Matungula is originally from Kenya, and played Rugby 7s before arriving in Cullowhee. Mike Houston specifically referenced Matungula (“he’s an outstanding player”) during the SoCon teleconference.

DT Ezavian Dunn (6’2″, 300 lbs.) started seven games as a freshman.

Defensive ends John McBeth and Caleb Hawkins have combined to start 57 games. Hawkins, in particular, will be a very tough matchup for The Citadel’s offensive line.

Linebacker Daniel Riddle had 74 tackles last season, third-most on the squad. Another ‘backer, Tyson Dickson, missed half of the 2014 season with injury, but did play against The Citadel — and made 16 tackles in that contest.

Sertonuse Harris is a LB/DB combo type who was a second-team All-SoCon pick by the coaches last year. Cornerback Trey Morgan was a preseason all-league choice. He had six interceptions last year.

Western Carolina’s depth chart lists two possible starters at placekicker, Logan Howard and Blake Metcalf. Last week, Howard converted the PATs while Metcalf was the kickoff specialist.

According to the team’s website, Logan Howard has “a black belt in martial arts and is a three-time world champion kick boxer.”

WCU has a new starting punter this season, redshirt freshman Ian Berryman. Kickoff returns are handled by Detrez Newsome and Karnorris Benson, while C.J. Goodman is the Catamounts’ punt returner.

Chandler Addertion is in his third season as Western Carolina’s long snapper.

Odds and ends:

– The ESPN3 production will feature Kevin Fitzgerald as the play-by-play announcer and Sadath Jean-Pierre as the analyst. Fans of the Bulldogs know former defensive back Jean-Pierre, a 2013 graduate of The Citadel.

Fitzgerald is a recent graduate of Syracuse who has called games in a variety of sports, including radio play-by-play for the women’s basketball team at the University of Vermont. This summer, he was the voice of the Fort Wayne TinCaps, a class A affiliate of the San Diego Padres.

– WCU did not play a game in SoCon action last season that was decided by fewer than 12 points. However, the Catamounts were 4-1 in league games decided by two touchdowns.

Western Carolina lost two non-conference games by five points last year. The Catamounts lost 36-31 in the season opener at South Florida (a game the Catamounts led at halftime), and 19-14 at Presbyterian.

The Blue Hose had two pick-6 TDs in the latter contest, the second coming with less than two minutes remaining in the game. WCU’s offense was victimized by five turnovers, including four interceptions thrown by three different quarterbacks (Troy Mitchell got hurt midway through the third quarter).

– The Catamounts’ roster features 53 players from the state of North Carolina, by far the most from any state (as would be expected).  There are 25 natives of Georgia on the team, and 7 South Carolina residents.

I was a little surprised that there are as many Catamounts from Kenya as there are from Tennessee (one each).

The aforementioned Helva Matungulu is from Nairobi. The one native of the Volunteer State, freshman defensive back Mikey White, went to Science Hill High School in Johnson City; that’s the same school sharing a stadium this season with East Tennessee State.

– Western Carolina’s opponent last week, Mars Hill, travels to Chattanooga this Saturday to take on the Mocs. That game starts at 1:00 pm ET. Later in the afternoon, there may be some comparing of scores in the tailgating areas — or there may just be more eating and drinking.

Mars Hill, of course, is the alma mater of Mike Houston. On the CBS online college football schedule, the school is listed as “MARS”.

– WCU had a good home crowd last week, with an announced attendance of 12,348. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a sizable number of those fans make it down to Charleston on Saturday.

– Western Carolina-The Citadel is the first SoCon league game of the season, and the only one on this week’s schedule. In fact, there is only one conference matchup per week for the next four weeks.

There won’t be a full slate of conference games until October 10, when all eight SoCon teams compete in league action.

Mark Speir pointed out during the SoCon teleconference that after Saturday night, Western Carolina won’t be playing another league game for almost a month. The same is true for The Citadel.

– Per the WCU game notes, this is the earliest league road opener for the Catamounts since playing The Citadel in Week 2 in 1998.

– Western Carolina’s release also listed the three times in recent history that a matchup between the two schools has been moved or postponed: 1989 (thanks to Hurricane Hugo, with the game played at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia); 1999 (Hurricane Floyd); and 2001 (9/11).

– In a now-annual tradition, I want to officially criticize Western Carolina for blowing a chance at having a truly fantastic school nickname back in 1933, when “Catamounts” was chosen. The runner-up choice was “Mountain Boomers”.

Mountain Boomers! How can you not pick Mountain Boomers as your nickname when you have the opportunity? C’mon.

– Western Carolina was The Citadel’s opponent the last time the South Carolina Corps of Cadets was not in attendance for a home game at Johnson Hagood Stadium. That happened on November 20, 2004 (a 17-0 victory for the Bulldogs), while the corps was on Thanksgiving break.

After the game, a meeting of The Citadel’s Board of Visitors was held. Action was taken:

The Board of Visitors passed a resolution that The Corps be present and in uniform at all Citadel home football games in the future. The resolution passed unanimously.

That is why The Citadel now always concludes the regular season on the road.

– Saturday’s game is Military Appreciation Night. At halftime, the Parris Island Marine Band will perform. It always puts on a good show.

– This game has been designated as a “white-out”. Fans are supposed to wear white; the Bulldogs are expected to wear white jerseys and white pants with their white helmets. I’m unsure if the corps of cadets will wear their standard summer leave uniforms, or if they will be wearing “dress whites” (which I believe would be unprecedented).

– Per one source that deals in such matters, The Citadel is a 3-point favorite over Western Carolina on Saturday. The over/under is 55.

– Unfortunately, the long-range weather forecast is not promising. Showers and thunderstorms on Saturday are “likely”, according to the National Weather Service. There is a 50% chance of rain on Saturday night.

I expect this game to be close. It could go either way, though to be honest I am a bit pessimistic about the Bulldogs’ chances. Which, to be fair, is my default outlook…

Last season, Western Carolina had seven rushes of 20+ yards against the Bulldogs. There were also three pass plays of 20+ yards.

Most of WCU’s cast of characters from that game are back, most notably Troy Mitchell. The Citadel has not had much luck in recent years defending dual-threat QBs, and that certainly includes Mitchell.

He isn’t perfect, though. In three games against the Bulldogs, Mitchell has thrown four interceptions. It’s also true that The Citadel has won two of the three games in question.

While the Bulldogs did what they had to do against Davidson, I was a little concerned that The Citadel’s defense only registered one sack (plus one hurry) against nineteen pass attempts. On the other hand, having a passes defensed rate of 42% tends to alleviate that issue.

Comparing how Western Carolina did last week against Mars Hill versus how The Citadel performed against Davidson is pointless. Neither SoCon team was challenged, though Mars Hill is probably better than Davidson.

WCU more or less took most of the second quarter off against the Lions, while the Bulldogs never let up versus the Wildcats. That’s of no real consequence, though.

I think it’s going to be a high scoring game. I feel reasonably confident about that, so a 13-9 final is inevitable.

At any rate, I’ll be there on Saturday. Can’t wait.

Go Dogs!

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